WASHINGTON – When Phoenix forward Lauri Korpikoski was hooked on a breakaway by Washington defenseman Dennis Wideman and scored on the ensuing penalty shot against Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun, it gave the Coyotes a 2-0 lead and quieted a Verizon Center crowd anxious for the Capitals to snap a four-game losing skid. With a two-goal deficit staring the Capitals in the face in the second period, the game was threatening to end similarly to the Capitals’ last two games – a 4-1 loss in Winnipeg and a 7-1 loss in Toronto.
But 53 seconds later, at the 8:27 mark of the second frame, a 2-0 deficit quickly become a one-goal deficit as John Carlson delivered a slap shot from the point that beat Coyotes goalie Jason Labarbera for Carlson’s third goal of the year. Carlson’s goal, aided by traffic in front of Labarbera, jump-started the Capitals’ offensive attack as Washington (11-7-1, 23 points) went on to defeat Phoenix, 4-3, in front of an announced 18,506 at Verizon Center Monday night.
“I think it definitely helped us, obviously,” Carlson said of his goal. “We weren’t really getting any breaks, and my goal and another goal – Cody’s goal – were both pretty lucky in my opinion and that’s what you need sometimes.”
Carlson’s goal was preceded by a first period giveaway by Carlson on the power play in which a pass intended Brooks Laich was picked off by Phoenix forward Radim Vrbata, directly leading to a breakaway goal by Vrbata and a 1-0 lead for the Coyotes.
“In the game of hockey, you’re going to make mistakes,” said Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau. “Carly, first play, made a mistake, trying to do the right thing, to get it to Brooks. But, I mean, mistakes are going to happen. As long as they’re mistakes of effort, you can accept them.”
Carlson’s goal was followed by a tying marker from Cody Eakin later in the second period – a slap shot from the top of the right wing circles that pin-balled through traffic and beat Labarbera.
Third period goals came from Nicklas Backstrom at the 1:52 mark of the frame and Laich at the 7:06 mark during a five-on-three in favor of the Capitals. Phoenix (10-6-3, 23 points) capped the scoring at the 5:52 mark of the final period with a second tally from Korpikoski.
“When it came down to it in the third, the game was teetering – it could have gone either way – I think we were pretty happy with our response,” said Capitals forward Mike Knuble. “We capitalized on a five-on-three, which we haven’t done and it turns out that’s the difference in the game.”
Backstrom, who assisted Laich’s goal, said the Capitals didn’t panic after falling behind by a goal after the first period. “We were still positive, I think. We had a good feeling,” Backstrom said. “I mean, I think our first period wasn’t that bad. We felt like we had chances, we just gotta keep going, and that’s what we did, I think.”
Fans at Verizon Center had a lot of energy in the second and third periods, seemingly sensing that this game was bigger than most late November contests, that a potential five-game losing would begin to look eerily similar to eight-game the losing streak suffered by the Capitals last December.
“We love playing in front of the fans,” Laich said. “Sometimes you just really focus on the task at hand. We want to get the fans into the game. They support us and encourage us and it makes it really fun. But we were still confident in our game before that. The building was quiet. We just had to get one into the net to give them something to cheer about.”
The game was preceded by news that Boudreau, for the first time during his time as Capitals head coach, had made Alexander Semin a healthy scratch. Semin has four goals, five assists and a team-high 28 penalty minutes. Semin, in his seventh season in the NHL, has scored 180 goals in his career.
“He’s taken penalties seven games in a row,” Boudreau said of Semin. “At some point, you have to be accountable for your errors. We don’t like doing those things to people that are that talented, but everybody’s gotta know that everybody’s accountable. It was a tough decision but it was a decision that I thought had to be made for the group.”